Nick Donatelli. September 9th, 2020. Twitter – @Donny_Diablo7
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick evades a New England defender on his way to the end zone, December 29th, 2019.
The Wait is Over, Football is Back!
It is with great pleasure to welcome you to the first game week of the season Dolphin fans! The year will kickoff where it ended in 2019: Foxborough, Massachusetts against the New England Patriots.
This will be the ninth time both teams have met each other to open the season, with each team accruing four wins each in the previous eight match ups; including a 33-20 victory for Miami the last time the two clubs met in the season opener during the 2014 season. The Fins haven’t had much luck when going into Gillette to start the year, posting a 1-3 record all time in such games. However, with the loss of quarterback Tom Brady, and a bevy of players that opted out of this season due to COVID-19 for New England, prospects are more hopeful going into this match up.
Refresher, What Happened Last Time?
The last time these teams met was at the conclusion of last season. Miami went into Gillette with the odds stacked against them in the form of injuries, the frigid Boston weather, a motivated Patriots team attempting to secure a first-round bye week in the playoffs and the fact that they had not won in Foxborough since 2008.
Around the country, everyone outside of the Dolphins building was positive New England would roll to an easy win. Ryan Fitzpatrick had something to say about that, leading Miami to a shocking 27-24 victory on a game winning drive capped by a 5 yard go ahead score to tight end Mike Gesicki.
It is also worth noting how well wide receiver Devante Parker played in the contest against the eventual Defensive Player of the Year cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Parker had the most receiving yards in a game last season against the Patriots by far corralling 8 catches for 137 yards, including a pivotal 24 yard catch on a 50-50 ball which extended the game winning drive.
Fitzmagic in the Air, Impact on Tua
While I’m sure many fans are clamoring to get their first look at the quarterback of the future in Tua Tagovailoa, going with incumbent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick gives the Fins experience and continuity at the quarterback position, and ultimately the best chance to win this week. Fitzpatrick has seen it all over the course of his 15 year NFL career, starting for eight separate teams (Rams, Bengals, Bills, Titans, Texans, Jets, Buccaneers, and Dolphins). There’s not much that Bill Belichick are going to throw at him that would surprise Fitz and the Miami offense this week.
Stemming from this, the decision to start Fitzpatrick will be beneficial to Tua in the long run. Throwing Tua to the wolves this week against New England’s vaunted defense could prove to be detrimental to his growth as a player. In an offseason without any in person preparation until training camp, and no pre-season action to acclimate himself to the size, speed, and intelligence of NFL defenders, having the opportunity to watch and learn from Fitz will aid Tua’s mental development while preventing his confidence from being affected early in his career.
Matchups to Watch
Dolphins receiver Devante Parker week 17. Dec. 29, 2019.
WR Devante Parker vs. CB Stephon Gilmore
Devante Parker had his way with Stephon Gilmore at the conclusion of last season with a 8-137-0 stat line in a dominant performance; including 3 catches for 37 yards on the game winning drive. Despite this performance, some people around the NFL world still debate whether or not Parker is a true number one receiver after his breakout year.
If Parker can put together a similar outing this week it will not only go along way in helping the Fins winning hopes in giving Fitzpatrick a legitimate playmaking threat, but will also help debunk the talk around the league that he was a flash in the pan in 2019.
QB Cam Newton vs. Miami Front 7
This Patriots team will be like none other over the past twenty seasons due to the presence of Cam Newton as the new starting quarterback. The former 2015 MVP brings an entirely new dynamic to the offense that Miami never had to worry about playing the Tom Brady led teams of the past, mobility at the quarterback position.
Over the course of his eight year career, Newton has posted an impressive 4,806 rushing yards (third all time among quarterbacks) and accumulated 58 rushing touchdowns on an average of 7.5 rush attempts per game, both marks lead all quarterbacks in league history
The front seven must put an emphasis on keeping Newton in the pocket, and under duress. If Newton gets comfortable and starts having fun out there things could get away from the Fins on defense in a hurry.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Patriots Secondary
The outcome of this game is going to be heavily influenced by which version of Ryan Fitzpatrick shows up Sunday afternoon. Are we going to get the Fitz from the brutal 43-0 outing (11 of 21 for 89 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs) in week 2 of last season against New England or a performance similar to his efforts in the season finale last year?
Fitzpatrick has been a gunslinger over the course of his career, never afraid to take a chance with his arm, even against the likes of Stephon Gilmore and Co. His fearless mentality is truly a double edged sword, especially if he makes a mistake early and New England can build early momentum. On the flip side, Fitz has a tendency to get hot and if he does Patriots defenders could experience a sense of deja vu from the previous matchup.
Keys to the Game
Establish the Run, Take Some Pressure off Fitz
The Dolphins were atrocious running the football last season finishing last in the NFL (72.3 yards per game). This in turn made Miami essentially one dimensional last season, putting the brunt of the burden on Fitzpatrick and the passing game.
Miami made improving the run game a priority in the off season signing one of the most consistent backs in the league in veteran Jordan Howard to be their early down starter. Miami didn’t stop there,on draft day the Fins also traded for San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida for change of pace and passing situations. Not to mention, the recent trade acquisition of Raiders third-round rookie WR/RB Lynn Bowden, a versatile player who Miami will utilize in both the run and passing game.
New England struggled defending the run in 2019 giving up 106.4 yards per game (18th overall) on the ground. To make matters worse they lost last years starting DT Danny Shelton in free agency and they did nothing to replace him. Miami needs to attack the weakness of the Patriots defense in order to alleviate pressure on Fitz and have an overall more balanced attack.
Neutralize Julian Edelman
While Julian Edelman may be getting older (thirty-four years old) he is still an elite slot receiver, and is easily Cam Newton’s biggest threat in the passing game going into this season.
If the Dolphins secondary can limit Edelman’s opportunities, Cam will be forced to look to his unproven options consisting of players such as last years first-round pick WR N’Keal Harry who flashed as rookie, and tight end Ryan Izzo. This is a far cry from the loaded Patriots offenses we’ve seen over the last two decades.
If those young players fail to step up against the rest of the Dolphins talented secondary, Newton and the Patriots would need to rely on their rushing attack more often, making them more one dimensional and easier to defend.
Don’t Get Beat by Cam’s Legs, Hit Him Any Chance You Get
It would be easy to say “Stop the Run” in general as a key to the game, but the Patriots are widely viewed this year as one of the teams that are going to pound the rock. Behind their strong offensive line and stable of versaitle running backs (James White, Rex Burkhead, and Sony Michel) plus the addition of Cam Newton, New England is going to have it’s moments running the ball.
Specifically, I think the more crucial aspect is preventing Cam from running wild. Miami’s defense needs to generate pressure as much as possible when Cam is passing the football, and keep him the pocket. If Newton does get a chance to hurt them with his legs, the Fins have to emphasize hitting him any chance they get when he’s running outside of the pocket in order to make him hesitant to run in the future. Like any quarterback, pressure is the key to knocking them off their game, and Newton is no different.
Tale of the Tape
|2019 Season||Miami Dolphins||New England Patriots|
|Total Offense (Rank)||310.0 (27)||354.0 (15)|
|Rush Offense||72.3 (32)||106.4 (18)|
|Pass Offense||237.8 (12)||247.6 (8)|
|Points Per Game||19.1 (25)||26.3 (7)|
|Total Yards Allowed||6,364||4,414|
|Total Defense (Rank)||397.8 (30)||275.9 (1)|
|Rush Defense||135.4 (27)||95.5 (6)|
|Pass Defense||262.4 (26)||180.4 (2)|
|Points Allowed per Game (Rank)||30.9 (32)||14.1 (1)|
|Turnover differential (Rank)||-10 (27)||+21 (1)|
Tight End Mike Gesicki fights for extra yardage last season in New England. December, 29, 2019.
Many pundits have the Dolphins (+6) starting the season off with a loss in Foxborough. It’s not difficult to see as to why as over the last eleven contests the Fins have played in New England they have posted an abysmal 1-10 record, the lone win being the aforementioned upset from last years season finale.
Miami will look to carry last years late season momentum into Gillette this weekend, alongside a heavily improved secondary and rushing attack. The biggest concern for me is Miami getting consistent pressure on Cam Newton, without that Cam is liable to break the game open at any point. If the additions of Shaq Lawson and Kyle Van Noy, along with the rest of the front seven can generate pressure early and often Miami has a chance.
All things considered on paper the Fins are a vastly improved team, that I think will be able to keep the game close. Sadly, with no preseason action to gage where I think this team is at going in to the year I can’t rationally pick them to win going into New England sight unseen against Coach Belichick but I don’t foresee a blowout for either side.
Patriots 31-Dolphins 24